IVF clinics in the UK have come under further scrutiny by the HFEA after concerns that a high number of add-on IVF treatments continue to be offered to patients despite no conclusive evidence that they increase the chance of a pregnancy or live birth. Add-on treatments, such as endometrial scratching and assisted egg hatching, are not backed by strong clinical evidence, yet patient demand for these services remains high and so do the costs of treatment.
Sally Cheshire, chair of HFEA, commented: 'We welcome the introduction of new treatments that could increase the chances of success; however, we want to see responsible innovation. Fertility treatment add-ons are being offered to more patients by clinics and we know many patients are asking for these add-ons and paying for them if they have private treatment.'
The HFEA and ten leading professional and patient fertility groups have published a consensus statement that aims to guide professionals and create a 'cultural change'. The recommendations to clinics include: only offering add-on treatments where more than one high-quality study demonstrates its safety and effectiveness, stopping treatment if concerns are raised regarding safety or effectiveness, informing patients of the experimental nature of add-ons where robust evidence is lacking and not charging patients extra to take part in a clinical trial.
Jason Kasraie, chair of the Association of Clinical Embryologists, said: 'We support greater transparency in the sector with regard to treatment add-ons. Whilst it is important that we work to ensure patients always receive the latest treatments and have access to new technologies in order to maximise their chance of treatment success, it is also essential that we ensure patients are fully informed and that only procedures or technologies that are evidence based are used.'
Earlier this year, the HFEA published a traffic light rating system to help patients identify if a particular add-on treatment is effective and safe for use (see BioNews 983). Despite the warnings from the first report demonstrating the lack of clinical evidence of add-on treatments, it is hoped that the latest consensus statement will ensure that clinics are transparent about add-ons and patients are well informed of their treatment choices.
Cheshire added: 'It's crucial that patients inform themselves about the add-ons they may be offered, so that they can ask the right questions, and make the right choices, when choosing what treatment to have. We've produced "traffic light" rated information on our website that keeps them up-to-date with the latest evidence on each of the most commonly offered add-ons.'